Defunding Public Sector Unions Will Threaten Workplace Protections

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January 19, 2018

Lambda Legal, joined by the Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force and PFLAG, today filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a challenge to unions’ ability to collect “fair share” fees from workers who, while not themselves part of the union, nevertheless benefit from union representation.

The lawsuit is widely recognized as an effort to defund and cripple public-sector unions. Because of the crucial role unions have played in establishing anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people and others, Lambda Legal is urging the Court to preserve the unions’ right to collect these fees.

“Forty years ago, the Supreme Court recognized quite rightly that denying public sector unions the ability to collect fees from all employees who benefitted from their collective bargaining representation and negotiations would fundamentally undermine working people’s ability to join together in strong unions to speak up for themselves, their families and their communities,” said Lambda Legal Employment Fairness Project Director Greg Nevins. “Eliminating fair share fees would choke off funding for and devastate public-sector unions, who have been trailblazers in securing workplace protections for LGBT employees and extending health and pension benefits to their families.”

As explained in Lambda Legal’s brief, public sector unions provided among the earliest protections anywhere in the U.S. to LGBT people. Resolutions and contracts including nondiscrimination clauses for sexual orientation date back to the early 1970s.

Unions were also in the vanguard of negotiating the extension of health and pension benefits to same-sex partners of public employees and their families, and conducted important public health education campaigns.

"Through our work in SEIU's International Lavender Caucus we’ve been able to work with other LGBTIQ members around the country to fight back against discriminatory practices at worksites and ensure that LGBTIQ employees are treated with dignity and respect at work," said Thomas Perine, an IT Specialist and member of SEIU Local 1000 from Sacramento, Calif.

“Roughly one million LGBT people work in the public sector, and seven million in the private sector, and studies show this population consistently faces higher levels of discrimination,” Nevins added. “They can earn as much as 30 percent less then similarly situated heterosexual employees, and one-fourth of LGBT public sector employees report experiencing discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Public-sector unions are an absolutely essential bulwark against that discrimination for our community, and many others. Without the funding provided through fair share fees, that bulwark would crumble.”

Oral argument in Janus v. AFSCME is scheduled for February 26, 2018.